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Arab-on-Arab Intervention Gone Wrong: Saudi Arabia in Yemen

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] Y [/yt_dropcap]emen, one of the most turbulent and thoroughly disregarded states of the globe, has been exhausted by continuous civil wars, sectarianism, and tribalism since its inception as an independent country. Not only has Yemen divided into two states in her history, but also has dealt with endless flows of conflicts and turmoils.

Even after the re-unification of the state, civil wars and tribal vendettas have not come to an end. Combined with the dictatorship of its former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the disastrous conflict of 1994 between Houthis and the government forces was resurrected in 2004 and proceeded in several rounds, notwithstanding the armistices triggered by the mediation of Gulf countries (Council on Foreign Relations 2015). Being regarded as a regional destabilizer, Yemen has been subjected to multiple foreign interventions, either overt or covert, and the final stage of foreign interference might be considered the Saudi-led coalition which was involved due to the invitation of the Yemeni government (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2015). In this article, I argue that the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition into Yemen is ineffective due to four reasons: the high number of civilian casualities; the dearth of access to food, water and infrastructure; the inability to terminate or restrict the conflict; and the economic recession of Saudi Arabia after the intervention.

Civilian Protection

Saudi Arabia and its allies conducted two operations in Yemen: Operation Decisive Storm and Operation Restoring Hope on the invitation of the Yemeni President Hadi. Even though these operations are intended to halt the Houthi expansion and to reinstate Hadi to his office, it is also significant to note that the intervening forces ought to consider civilians and protect them while pursuing this agenda. In this regard, the interveners seem to be unsuccessful to protect Yemeni civilians since, according to the World Bank, nearly three thousand civilians were killed by intervening forces and approximately one million persons internally displaced (Nuruzzaman 2015). By the end of July 2015, the United Nations declared the Yemen humanitarian emergency as Level 3, which is the indicator of the most complicated and severe crises (Kandeh & Kumar 2015). After Operation Decisive Storm ended, Operation Restoring Hope was initiated with the inclusion of ground forces. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 7127 civilians were killed and more injured in this operation (Powell 2016).

Access of Civilians to Livelihood, Water, and Infrastructure

When Operation Decisive Storm was initiated, Saudi Arabia and its allies embarked upon the implementation of a naval and aerial blockade of Yemen with the purpose of thwarting the possible escape of Houthi leaders. However, the blockade brought about disastrous consequences for the Yemeni civilians due to the fact that most of the food supply of Yemen was either imported from neighboring countries or provided by humanitarian aid agencies (Kandeh & Kumar 2015). In the impoverished zones of the country, which consists of more than thirty five percent of the country according to the World Bank, famine became widespread (Carasik 2015). Furthermore, air campaigns heavily damaged the infrastructure of the country. Hospitals and schools were bombed and water sanitation was interrupted. Access to clean water and health care is a rare luxury for the Yemeni people. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 25 million people are struggling to have food and almost two-thirds of the country’s population are not able to receive any health care (Powell 2015).

Terminating or Limiting the Conflict

Saudi-led coalition forces interfered in Yemen with the purpose of putting an end to the Houthi expansion. However, they were not able to coerce Houthi rebels to withdraw from areas where the Houthis had seized control. Throughout operations, which proceeded for months, intervening parties only managed to retrieve the southern parts of the country from the Houthi forces (Al-Madhaji, Sidahmed & Al-Muslimi 2015). The position of the capital city, Sana’a, is still obscure since neither coalition forces nor Houthi rebels were able to control the entire city (Gause 2016). Thus, Saudi forces could not terminate or limit the conflict. On the contrary, they ultimately only expanded the conflict.

Minimum Degree of Burden to the Citizens of the Intervening Forces

Notwithstanding the fact that there is a coalition formed to interfere in Yemen, the main intervening party and the leader of the coalition is Saudi Arabia, as it undertakes most of the operational cost (Clausen 2015). That’s why it is crucial to note in terms of effectiveness that the operations put myriad burdens on Saudi citizens. According to the country development reports of Saudi Arabia in 2015 and 2016, there was a substantial fall in GDP from 3.5% to 1.5% and a significant rise in the price index from 2.2% to 4.2% (IHS Global Inc. 2016). Though the low price of oil has a significant impact on these decreasing economic values, the impact of the costly intervention in Yemen cannot be excluded as a non-factor (Powell 2016). Thus, this intervention has not only been detrimental to basic human services and standards of living in Yemen, it has produced a significant negative economic effect on domestic standards within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.

Conclusion

The conflict in Yemen was a civil war between the fractions within Yemeni society, based on sectarian and ideological issues, until the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015. Both of the Saudi operations seem to be ineffective due to several reasons. First of all, both operations were not capable of protecting the lives of Yemeni civilians. Approximately six thousand people were killed by the intervention forces and many more were injured. Secondly, the naval and aerial blockade hindered food imports and the delivery of humanitarian aid, which created a catastrophic famine for the Yemeni people. Moreover, Saudi bombardments destroyed the infrastructure which made clean water and health care inaccessible to millions throughout Yemen. Thirdly, the intervention can hardly be considered successful in terms of terminating or restricting the conflict in Yemen. Finally, Saudi Arabia’s own GDP per capita and purchasing power parity was negatively impacted, as well as the annual growth rate, which indicates the heavy burden of intervention on Saudi citizens. Considering these reasons, the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen was not just ineffective, but disastrously so. Whether it can be altered or adapted moving forward into the future in order to change these disturbing trends remain to be seen. But so far this 21st century example of Arab intervention in another Arab state shows nothing but support for those who oppose intervention under any circumstances.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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